Daniel Handler is a writer who is more famous for writing under a pseudonym. Let’s see if we can review his new book without even mentioning the pseudonym. Given how lively his new book, All the Dirty Parts, is – it’s probably for the best. We wouldn’t want any young fans of L—– Sn—– to accidentally chance across this and, you know, find out a few things a little sooner than perhaps they should, eh?
“There are love stories galore and we all know them,” Cole, our young narrator, informs us. “This isn’t that. The story I’m typing is all the dirty parts.” When he isn’t watching porn, or jerking off, or discussing porn with his best friend Alec, he’s sleeping around. He has a rep. “It doesn’t matter how many girls I’ve slept with… What matters is that it doesn’t feel like enough.”
It’s a dark book, then, in many ways, dark like Philip Roth’s Deception or like Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer; it’s the kind of book that may make some readers uncomfortable. Landing, as it does in the middle of the latest blitzkrieg of sexual outrage, film producers, directors, actors and politicians toppling left, right and centre, accusations and condemnations filling the airwaves (and condemnation the only accepted response – check out Woody Allen’s attempt to admit any kind of complication into the debate, only to be labelled “a vile little worm”), All the Dirty Parts feels mildly dangerous.
And yet, at the same time, there is an unexpected sweetness to things, at times – if you are brave enough to tear through the braggadocio – that recalls Joe Dunthorne’s Submarine. After flirting with a bisexual interlude, our narrator takes up with a young woman called Grisaille who is every bit as interested in sex as Cole. It would be easy to dismiss Grisaille as the product of a middle aged man’s fantasy (Nicola Six anyone?) if it weren’t for the authenticity of Handler’s dialogue. The back and forth between Cole and Grisaille is by far the best part of the book.
The arc – slightly shallow sex obsessed young man finds love and has his heart broken – is well-trodden to be sure but Handler’s light touch (the novel clocks in at just shy of 150 pages and is comprised, for the most part, of extremely short paragraphs) allows for an elegant pace. All the Dirty Parts is a book that is deceptively simple to read, a book you could read quickly, and yet it’s also a book that loiters, like a figure you glimpse in the shadows of a shopping precinct at night. It’s a worrying book. A book that nags at you. Are we supposed to read this is a tale of a young sexual predator who gets his comeuppance? Is it a book meant to work in the same way as AM Homes’ The End of Alice – are we supposed to feel some sympathy for Cole? Are these things mutually exclusive? It’s a book that raises questions and the answers are not straightforward. Questions are good because we have to think. A lack of easy answers is good because we have to think. Thinking is good. We thank Mr Handler for that.
Any Cop?: Whilst we imagine that All the Dirty Parts won’t be for everyone, we enjoyed it more than Handler’s previous outing, We are Pirates.